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MINI Cooper S ALL4 Countryman 2017 Road Test

The MINI Countryman has always split opinion. However, with more than half a million sold since its launch, even the most devoted MINI purist would struggle to deny that it has been anything but a runaway success. 

Given its goldmine status, it’s perhaps understandable that the new MINI Countryman looks, drives and feels very much like the old one. As before, the design is retro, yet bulbous, while the interior is family friendly and spacious, with a good-sized boot, room for four and lots of kit as standard.  

MINI has made some changes, with the most notable one being the size. The Countryman is now the biggest production car MINI has ever built. In fact, at 4.3 metres long and 1.6 metres high, it’s roughly the same size as the Nissan Qashqai. The price has grown too, with entry-level models starting from £22,465 - a hike of £5000. The Cooper S All4 Countryman tested here, will set you back a hefty £26,350, which pitches the MINI crossover straight into the path of the Audi Q2 and Q3. 

To be fair to the Countryman , it does look and feel very much like a premium car. Admittedly, not everyone will be taken by the stocky design, but climb inside and you’ll find a smart interior with lots of high quality and soft touch materials. Standard equipment levels are good, with all models getting DAB, navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control. MINI’s Emergency E-call is also included, which means the car will automatically call the emergency services in the event of an accident. 

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As with other models in the MINI range, the dashboard is dominated by an oversized central speedo, which displays media, radio and navigation data via a bright colour screen that is placed within the dial. This system can be upgraded to an optional eight-inch touchscreen, along with a rearview camera, though this will add £950 to the list price. 

However, while the standard six-inch screen is clear and easy to use, the dashboard layout is cluttered and awkward to use when on the move. Indeed, many of the controls are clustered together below the central dial and this makes it easy to become frustrated as you mis-hit a succession of buttons as you attempt to alter the air con or similar. 

Despite the clumsy design, the cabin is well finished and high in quality. Everything feels solid and, no matter how hard we pressed or pulled the trim, we couldn’t motivate it to make any creaks or squeaks. There are also lots of personalisation options too, which means you can add mood lighting, wood inserts and coloured sports seats. Again, all at an extra cost. 

Interior space is impressive though, with the high roof and wide body making the Countryman a comfortable and practical family car. Getting in and out is easy, thanks to the raised seating position and wide doors, while the rear bench should squeeze in three adults. The 450-litre boot is bigger than what you’ll find in most crossovers and will easily be able to carry a couple of suitcases or a large child’s buggy, although the narrow opening will make it a tricky to fit anything larger. 

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The engine line-up consists of familiar BMW petrol and diesels, starting with the turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder and moving up to the more powerful four-cylinder 2.0-litre engines. A plug-in petrol hybrid will also be available from late 2017. Our Cooper S test car has the 192PS 2.0 petrol with All4 all-wheel drive and steptronic automatic gearbox - according to the official figures, this set-up will return 44.1mpg.

The four-cylinder engine is extremely refined and moves along with good pace, while engine noise is kept low thanks to the excellent six-speed auto gearbox that changes up at 2500rpm. Given its upright stance, you might think that the ride might be a little soft in corners, but the Countryman is surprisingly composed and flat. However, things can get a little bumpy if you specify 18 or 19-inch wheels.

On the flipside, the larger wheels do improve the handling. In our view the Countryman is one of the better crossovers to drive, with its responsive steering and pokey engine making it fun on a twisty B road. Activate Sport mode and the auto 'box will carry the revs all the way to the red line, while an artificial engine note will give you the sensation that you're rattling along in a classic Cooper. All4 all-wheel drive also provides some scope for venturing off the beaten track, although the lack of ground clearance prevents the MINI from tackling anything too extreme. 

Given the gargantuan success of the previous Countryman, we expect this new, improved and more upmarket version to sell in huge numbers. Yes, we know it’s the least mini-like MINI you can buy, but it is difficult not to be taken by its quirky styling, plush interior and rewarding drive. 

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